As I knock back a tequila – no salt or lemon – a guy catches my eye. He’s on the short side, stocky. A strong nose and dark, dark eyes. He’s wearing skinny jeans and a plain black shirt.
“Hey,” he smiles at me.
He takes my hand and leads me to the dance floor. His hand is hard, calloused. He pulls me close to him as we move together, his hands lightly touching my back. I stare at his eyebrows. There are some so long they curl at the ends. He smells like sweat.
He leans in.
“No,” I say and push him away.
He walks back to me and whispers in my ear, “Fuck off.” I walk away.
My mom, Janah and I spend the whole day of Saturday doing wedding stuff for Janah and eating cake for my birthday. Janah is going to be the most beautiful bride in the world. She has a unique, vintage style. I am so proud of her because, despite the pressure of the wedding and her past where she was worryingly thin, almost anorexic, she is still enjoying food and not extreme dieting like other brides.
At the dinner table, Oom Theunis and my mom are coupled off on one side while George and Janah are coupled off on the other. I sit alone at the edge.
“On our first date, I prepared key cards with topics of conversation because I was so nervous,” George tells us. He and Janah were acting like newlyweds and, four years into their relationship, it is extremely cute.
“Have you guys heard about the Higgs Boson particle?” I ask the table, wanting to brag about the first-ever scientific knowledge I had read up on.
“Yes, it’s a particle that gives you eternal life,” Janah smirks. We all laugh and I proudly tell her the real meaning of the particle.
I look at him and Oom Theunis and what strikes me the most about both of them are how they are beautiful, caring people and they love my mom and my sister respectively. Just to have a good heart can mean so much.
That night, Janah and George leave the hotel to go fetch her bag in their car. It is just me, my mom and Oom Theunis sitting on the bed. I break down and cry while they hold me. I cry with my whole body, every inch of me burning with pain. I cry because I am alone and ashamed. I cry because I want to put what happened to me in a neat little box labeled “wisdom” from which I can draw pretty, folded envelopes to give to people.
But that’s not going to happen. Not tonight.
It seems like every single day at work I am reading another story about rape that made the headlines. It starts with a video circulated on the internet of a mentally handicapped girl being gang-raped. Then I read about a girl in Australia where the man who was accused of raping her got off because she was wearing skinny jeans and the judge ruled that you can’t rape someone who wears skinny jeans. Then I read a story in South Africa where the life sentence of a rapist got reduced to fifteen years because the victim accepted clothing and gifts from her uncle, the rapist. She also didn’t scream.
I didn’t scream.
A lack of resistance does not imply consent.
It is election year in the United States of America. Every Republican with a “grey face and a $2 haircut”, as Tina Fey dubbed them, gives their opinion about rape.
Todd Akin states that if a woman is “legitimately raped” then her body has a way of preventing pregnancy.
Richard Mourdock states that rape is part of “God’s purpose”. Roger Rivard’s father once told him “some girls rape easy”, which was his response to the newspapers after being told that a girl was raped in a Wisconsin classroom.
Paul Ryan, who ran for Vice-President with Mitt Romney, refers to rape as “a method of conception”.
Tom Smith states that getting raped and becoming pregnant is sort of like being the father of a daughter who has a baby out of wedlock.
I don’t know how to respond to these things. I’m sad. Beyond everything else, I’m scared and hurt. I’m tired.
A stream gets started on Reddit where rapists could explain themselves by telling their side of the story. A lot of the stories could have been André’s story. “I made a mistake…” or “I didn’t think…” and every story is followed by hundreds of people saying, “You made a mistake – everyone makes mistakes, you’re not a bad person!”
What really strikes me about this thread is that a lot of girls out there want a safe place to experiment sexually. They don’t necessarily want to have sex, but they want to explore their sexuality and, in this way, their sexual agency. What goes wrong is when the young men perceive any slight sexual hint as an invitation for sex. The girl gets stripped of her sexual agency and becomes a mere passive respondent to the hormones and lust of the young male body. She learns at an early age that men only want sex. Nothing else is relevant.
Definitions of rape based on representations of sexuality where the male acts and the female reacts (says yes/no) are highly problematic. They are problematic because female sexuality is not merely reactive, just as male sexuality is not always driven by the need to initiate. On the thread on Reddit, more often than not, it is the girl who initiates the encounter. It is the guy who took things too far.
Real statistics on sexual assault don’t exist, because the girl thinks that she’s to blame. She started it after all.
There is a practice in some parts of the world of stoning to death girls and women who have been raped for bringing shame onto their families. I think it is just as troubling that young women I know can’t accept that being coerced into sexual intercourse by someone that they know despite the fact that they were drunk, dumb, flirting or whatever, is still rape.